Book Review by Debbie Winkler
Series: Beautiful Creatures #2
Author: Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company (October 2010)
Page Count: 503 pages
Target Age Group: teens
Related Reviews: Beautiful Creatures #1 – Beautiful Creatures; Beautiful Creatures #2.5 – Dream Dark; Beautiful Creatures #3 – Beautiful Chaos; Beautiful Creatures #4 – Beautiful Redemption
Lena’s sixteenth birthday has passed and neither the Light nor the Dark have claimed her. Now Lena has one green eye (Light) and one golden eye (Dark), but seems to be developing some Dark tendencies. Ethan doesn’t remember what happened on Lena’s birthday, but he knows that Macon Ravenwood is dead and that Lena is acting strange. Lena is spending all of her time with her Dark cousin, Ridley, and a mysterious new boy, John, with strong powers. Ethan is not sure if they are influencing Lena, but he can feel her slipping away from him. His worst fears are realized when Lena runs away with Ridley and John to the mythical Magical Barrier. When Ethan learns that Lena’s mother has raised the seventeenth moon, which will force Lena to make a choice between the Light and the Dark, he knows that he has to track her down in the Caster Tunnels before it is too late.
I was not looking forward to reading Beautiful Darkness because it is the second book in the series. The second book always tears apart the hero and heroine and this one is no exception. Ethan wakes up the morning after Lena’s sixteenth birthday in his own bedroom with only hazy memories of what happened. There were only a handful of people present in the cemetery when Lena confronted her mother, Sarafine, at the end of the first book (Beautiful Creatures) and none of them, not even Amma, who loves Ethan like a mother, bother to fill Ethan in. Lena is slowly pulling away from Ethan. She claims that there is no future between the two of them. Lena is a Caster and, if she becomes more intimate with Ethan, she will kill him. As a Natural, Lena is one of the most powerful and rare types of Casters. Both Light and Dark want to claim her powers for their side and Lena knows, once she chooses sides, some of her family will die. Ethan is aware that Lena is struggling to make an extremely difficult and permanent choice, but he doesn’t understand why Lena is not choosing to share the burden with him, as she did in Beautiful Creatures. The critical piece of information that Ethan is missing is that, by bringing Ethan back to life, Lena killed Macon when she cast a spell in The Book of Moons. Lena cannot bear to look at Ethan because he always reminds her of what she has lost and the price she paid for his life. These themes made this book much better than I anticipated. There were some very good reasons why Ethan and Lena could not be together. Of course, that does not prevent Ethan from trying to find a way for them to be together, but Lena seems to accept it as a matter of course and starts making plans to live the rest of her life without Ethan.
Paralleling Ethan and Lena’s story are the dreams that Ethan has about Macon’s life. Macon was a Demon, an Incubus. He survived by feeding on the dreams of humans while the rest of his family feasted on Mortal blood. When Macon began to Transform and turn into a demon, he was forced to tell Jane, the love of his life, a Mortal, that they could never be together again. I really grew to care for Macon in this book and to see him as an actual person rather than simply a protector or impediment to Ethan and Lena’s relationship. We also learn a great deal about Ethan’s mother. Amma and a few of her fellow priestesses allow Ethan to communicate with his mother for a brief period of time. It is very clear that Ethan’s mother was no ordinary Mortal woman and that she is guiding and protecting Ethan even after her death. Link, Ethan’s best friend, is a real hoot and I was so thrilled to see him travel with Ethan through the tunnels. Link may not be the brightest bulb, but he is a loyal friend and willing to put up with any kind of weirdness he encounters, especially if it means he gets to spend more time with Ridley, Lena’s cousin. My favorite characters were Ethan’s Aunts, however. He has three great-great-aunts who are really something! They are constantly surprising Ethan with their knowledge of the worlds around them – both Caster and Mortal. Prying information out of them can be a bit trying, but it is always worthwhile. Amma and the Aunts manage to pop up at the most opportune moments to keep Ethan from making some grave mistakes and I wish that I had some guardian angels like these women!
Beautiful Darkness showed me what a sweet boy Ethan really is. I don’t know very many seventeen-year-olds who would be as well-adjusted and kind as Ethan while going through what he is experiencing. He spends every Saturday morning with his great-great-aunts, eats whatever Amma makes for him, is supportive of a father who is a constant embarrassment, and is willing to sacrifice all he is to make Lena happy. I knew there was something more to Ethan than meets the eye, however, and I was delighted to learn that I was correct! Ethan is a Wayward, the one who marks the path. Or, as Link sums it up, Ethan is a human compass or like the Caster equivalent of Aquaman (a superhero with the power to talk to fish – yeah, he is not in any movies yet). Only those with great purpose in the Caster world would need a Wayward to help them find their way. Waywards are rare and never come along by mistake. So Ethan has powers, but they are not as cool as what I was hoping for. When those around you can control the weather, suck the life out of you or talk you into doing anything they want, finding pathways doesn’t sound too cool, but Ethan needs his powers to get through the Caster tunnels and find Lena. Ethan also has a rare Arclight, a magical prison that can contain a Demon and prevent them from ever escaping. He will need all of his wits and powers to help him navigate the Caster tunnels, which run underneath the Mortal world. Magical doorways lead to unexpected locations, monsters can pop out anywhere, and comparisons to the yellow brick road from The Wizard of Oz were not that far off the mark. I really enjoyed exploring this segment of the Caster world and the tunnels were a clever way to travel long distances in a relatively short time, as well as to include lots of different locations in one book.
I loved learning more about the Caster world in Beautiful Darkness, but I also loved learning more about Gatlin, South Carolina. Ethan is so caught up in helping Lena that it would be easy to focus all of the book on the Caster world and Lena’s family, but the authors very carefully balance it out with Mortal events. Ethan meets a new girl at the library named Liv, who is a British exchange student. She is beautiful and Ethan is tempted, but he cannot cheat on Lena that way, even though Lena is not currently his girlfriend. We also meet John Breed, a Caster boy who seems to be stealing Lena away. Ethan barely scrapes by with passing grades after surviving his sophomore year of high school and is now on summer vacation, which he is supposed to spend by working in the library with Marian, the town Keeper. Summer brings the Fair to town and Amma, Ethan’s housekeeper and honorary grandmother, is determined to defend her first-prize ribbon for best fruit or fried pie at the fair (she usually wins second place for cream pies). The whole town also shows up to celebrate All Souls Day at the cemetery, where competitions are held to see who can decorate the graveyard in the gaudiest fashion with plastic flowers, fruit and animals. I would go crazy living in such a small town where everyone literally knows everyone else’s business (the mailman opens everyone’s letters), but it was so fun to read about! The authors have a lovely writing style and I find myself completely immersed in the world of Beautiful Creatures whenever I pick up a book. It is rare to find myself so captivated by a series, but this one is beautifully written, has terrific descriptions and will tug on your emotions. While reading, the Caster world seems real and it seems like Gatlin is a place I could really visit. I love being transported while I am reading a series and Beautiful Creatures has definitely done that for me!
This book contains supernatural creatures with various powers including sucking the blood out of humans, living off of human dreams, using Siren powers to get humans to do anything they are told to do, reading multiple pasts and futures, determining the truth by looking at someone’s face, and using natural powers (fire, water, trees, etc.) against others. There are scenes of mild peril. Demons, in corporeal and incorporeal form, are present in most of the book. These include incubuses, succubuses, and floating dark shadows that will kill you as soon as you encounter them. Ghosts, necromancers, voodoo priestesses, and Caster animals are also involved in the action. There are several scenes featuring teen sensuality and sexuality, but nothing goes beyond flirtation and heavy petting. Some characters die, but nothing is described in explicit terms and there are no gory details included. There is some mild language and teenage partying including drinking alcohol. Recommended for ages 15 and up.